tv [untitled] June 16, 2012 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT
elated spirits, softened hearts, cordially felicitating each other and as always, the reporter noted doing the honors of the occasion and presiding with a grace all her own was dolley. >> you're looking at a dress belonging to first lady dolley madison that is thought to have been made from the red velvet curtains she saved from the white house as british troops advanced on washington. this is "american history tv" on c-span3, where we are taking your calls and comments on the war of 1812. i want to open up the phone lines with a reminder the numbers for those of you on the east coast and central time zones is 202-737-001. in the mountain and pacific time zones it's 202-737-0002. make sure you mute your television when you call in. we will get to your calls on the war of 1812, in particular in this segment on the burning of washington. we are joined by anthony pitch, whose book is "the burning of washington: the british invasion
of 1814." thank you for joining us today. >> thank you for having me. >> you have brought along not only your book but an artifact. we saw an artifact of dolley madison. this is an artifact of james madison. tell us what your viewers will see here in a minute. >> this check came up for auction five years ago, and the auctioneer had misread the name of the person it was made out to. they wrote weightman. i knew it was roger ch chu weightman, dragged into the white house by the admiral as they were preparing to burn the white house, and the check was made out by james madison to weightman 23 days before burning the white house. it's probably for books, because weightman was a book seller and he was dragged in to represent the humiliation of the americans. he was the only american in the white house when the british
burned it, and so i knew, knowing more about the providence of this check, that it was going to be very valuable. one day i might donate it to the white house, but i'm fearful that it might end up in a drawer or something where the public can't see it. but it really is a remarkable find, because of the fact that weightman was the only person in the white house who was an american. he later became mayor of washington. he was a notable grand mason, and so that's why i got it. >> how long had washington been the seat of government by 1814? how long it had been the seat of the federal government? >> 1800. john adams came down in 1800, because the capital used to be in philadelphia, and he was the first president to live in the white house. every president has lived there except george washington. >> what was the city like in 1814?
>> it was a mere embryo of what it aspired to be. it was a gawky village. it was so forlorn that there was a british diplomat who wrote back to his mother after he saw the president in torn slippers greeting foreign diplomats, he said, "dearest ma, luckily for me i've been in turkey and am quite at home in this prime evil simplicity of manners." >> what was the white house like in 1814? >> the white house was run down. it was leaking. it was unfinished when the adamses moved in, and it was leaking for a long time. it was for many, many years in a state of disrepair. >> why did the british select washington as a target? what was their goal? >> twofold. the year before, the americans had invaded canada, and they'd burned and plundered some of the public and private buildings most notably in york, which is
now toronto, and in some -- most recently in some of the villages on the niagara frontier. those were the american excesses, so this was payback, but it was also to strengthen the american morale, because admiral coburn, he was the driving force behind the attack on washington. he told the british commander, overall commander of british forces in north america, that the fall of a capital is always a great road to the government of the country. so he knew this would be a struggle, it would really, really hurt americans' self-esteem and it would be a blow to their morale. >> we have calls waiting for anthony pitch, historian and author of "the burning of washington." seattle is next. >> caller: good morning, excellent show. it's my understanding that president madison personally, physically, commanded the troops
in the battles, making him one of the only two presidents who personally had the front command of troops during his tenure, and then, also, as a former marine, our belief is that the commandant of the marine corps' house, not far from the existing white house, still today, was not burned because of the british respect for how the u.s. marines fought in the battle. any comments? >> those are two very good questions, but i have to correct the caller. he described himself as a former marine. once a marine always a marine. i learned the hard way. i addressed somebody as former marine. it's quite correct to say that james madison was the first president on the battlefield to face incoming enemy fire. at the battle of ladensburg, he was in the knot of cabinet secretaries and a convoy of rockets passed over them, only then did they ride out of range. a lot of people, including the
national parks service, keep repeating in their literature that abraham lincoln was the first in fort stephens, as the confederates approached washington during the civil war. lincoln did face enemy fire. in fact, he almost got killed, he was so reckless, but he was not the first. james madison was the first president to face incoming enemy fire. >> what about his question about the marine -- >> the commandant's house is a beautiful home. i've been in there. that is probably myth. there are a lot of myths about this occupation of washington. they did not destroy the commandant's house at the navy yard, because they mistook it for private property, and they had pledged only to attack public property. and it was public property, but they didn't know that. the marine corps, there is no documentary evidence that i came across, why that house survived. i don't know.
it's one of those things that is passed down all of tradition that they admired the marines, because the marines gave as good as good as they got at bladensburg. there were 114 of them. they took 20% psh casualties. >> how many british were there? >> the british? there were around 1,200 fighting. the americans vastly outnumbered the british, but the british were the finest army in the world, and most of the defenders and militiamen couldn't possibly hold a candle to these regulars from britain. >> our viewers are seeing some video from ft. mchenry, seeing some video of re-enactors at ft. mchenry. over the weekend, it is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the start of the war. jackie, go ahead with your comments.
>> caller: hello. i'm a graduate of western reserve university in cleveland and i understand that the westerners refer to the fact that the connecticut was also -- the coast of connecticut was also burned, and these people were given lands in the western reserve of connecticut, which is northeastern ohio. >> i have to pass on that, because my expertise is on washington. the belly of washington. >> you also wrote about, you talked about rear admiral coburn, that he had become a hated figure. >> yes. >> because of burngz not just washington but before that, on the shore of maryland? >> the british had been plundering, pillaging, doing other misdeeds against the little settlements bordering the chesapeake bay, and by doing this the year before they captured washington.
so the newspapers had been reporting this all the time. and so the public was aware of coburn's successes. one american offered to a reward of $1,000 for his head and $500 for each of his ears. he was the quintessential 19th century supercelious aristocrat in britain. a very haughty man. coburn. but he had excelled for a young age. he was at sea before he was a teenager. he came to the attention of the greatest admiral of the day, horatio nelson, who described coburn as being brave, courageous and zealous. and coburn was later selected by the british military to take the fallen emperor napoleon into exile on the island of santalina, and while they were walking the deck, coburn wrote
in his diary that napoleon tried to act still as a sovereign. "i cannot allow that." that shows how overbearing he was, what kind of character he was. >> our topic is the burning of washington. the british invasion of 1814, and our guest is the author of the book, anthony pitch. we hear from princeton, new jersey, next. theresa, welcome to the program. >> caller: thank you. it's a compelling image to think about dolley saving some of her husband's papers, but i would like to know what efforts were made to save government papers in general before the attack, and was there a change in how they were kept after that? >> that's a good question. dolley did save a lot of the papers. her husband had asked her to do that. she got a carriage the day before the british arrived. it was filled mostly with government papers, as the expense of their personal property, most of which was destroyed. but on capitol hill, there was
turmoil, pandemonium, fear, confusion. and most of the government agencies remained staffed, because most of the clerks were over 45 and exemption caught up to them. in the basement of the house of representatives, nearly all the offices were empty, because most of the clerks were young people, and so any j.t. foster individual was there. he had a scant experience, weak authority, burdened with the need to make rapid decisions of national importance. and he had no idea what to do and a colleague of his had been calmed up into the military and he sent some messengers to get a wagon. he came back with one cart, four oxen, taken from a man who lived six mimes out of town and loaded up some papers from the capital and they drove into the countryside. at the senate, it was total confusion. nobody with administrative
authority was on hand, and so two young people managed to get one cart, and one of them -- he drove this cart through washington having loaded the papers of the senate, which included its only copy of the executive history, and the positions and names of all the americans right down to the gulf. these they managed to take eventually to the quaker village of brookville about 30 miles north of washington in maryland. that's where the sum of papers remained. others, hours before the invasion and managed to save a lot of the state department papers. one that really, really counts is at the state department.
this is -- this is one of the stories that you have to tell your children and your grandchildren, because when the british approached, the secretary of state was james monroe, and he scribbled a note to the state department, save the precious national documents. this young clerk, stephen, hurried, ordered them into bags and into these he and others, but he was chiefly instrumental, put the original copies of the declaration of independence, international treaties and george washington's correspondence including the letter of resigning. while something was being done the secretary of war passed by and rebuked him for being an alarmist. he said they're not coming to washington. they're going to baltimore. and he stood up to the secretary of war, he loaded them into carts, drove two miles above georgetown, put them in an abandoned mill and then had second thoughts. a spy could lead them there, so he went 35 miles west to leesburg, virginia, put them in
an empty house, locked the door, gave the key to the collector of the internal revenue, and check them into a hotel. that night, the british burned the white house. the next day the state department. had he not acted and defied the secretary of war, you would not be able to see the declaration of independence and the constitution in the national archives today. >> is it true that james madison carried the entire contents of the u.s. treasury with him when he evacuated washington? >> no, that's not true. at one of the banks, the bank of the metropolis, a block from the white house, they got word at 2:00 p.m., that's about eight hours before, seven hours before the british arrived and burned the capitol. alexander kerr, who was a cashier there, he grabbed a lot of the money, the printed money, and escaped with it to maryland. the bank survived. they mistook it again for private property, but, no.
that's not true. >> some of the images we're seeing on-screen from the national portrait gallery. the smithsonian the national portrait gallery and we thank them for that and also the maryland historical society in baltimore. sarasota is next for anthony pitch. nancy go ahead with your comment. >> caller: yes. i have an ancestor, his name was john burns and he lived in akron, new york, and he fought in the war of 1812. and i requested his war records and received a lot of documentation for where he tried to get, i guess, the land that was supposed to be granted to him. later after he died, hi wife even tried to do that, and was never granted any land. so were there a lot of those that were not given the land after the war of 1812, is my question? because i really don't know a lot about the history that
you're speaking of. that's why i'm listening today. >> again that really doesn't focus on the burning of washington, which i'm here to talk about. that's not my field. >> what was the size of the u.s. military force in washington? >> marines, 114 fought at the battle. there were according to records i found 27,000 regulars, but spread thinly from the canadian frontier right down to the gulf. >> how many would have been in washington at the time? >> very, very few. the 114 were the best, finest units amongst several thousand who fought at the battle of bladensburg, prenom dantly british men. >> you talk about the battle. how did the burning of washington unfold amp the british won there at bladensburg? >> bladensburg is six miles southeast of washington, and
the british approached that. they fought in the mid-day sun in august. it was so hot. 18 of their men died from heat exhaustion. within an hour, they had overwhelmed the americans, and the marines, as i said, fought so well, that the british, there's a scene of chivalry on the battlefield where the commodore joshua and an american 55 years old was in charge of the regular surrender, and the marines were clustered around him. the british came up and they offered him his freedom in whichever direction he needed then treated him like a brother. appointed a car, a british captain to look after him. he later said "they've treated me like a brother." and so they spoke. they waited and then arrived in washington at sunset, and the american forces had fled through washington, through georgetown, into, they went as
far as maryland, a lot of them. and there was nobody to defend. there were 8,000 residents who washington. and 9/10 of them had fled to the surrounding areas of maryland and virginia. so there was nobody to defend the city and the capitol, and they just took over. they were there 24 hours, and he went very quickly. they came in the evening. they left the following evening, because they were afraid of being cut off on their route back to their ships on the pawtuxet river about 45 miles east. >> next call is in virginia. go-ahead, matt. >> caller: i was wondering if mr. pitch could talk more about the storm that hit right after the burning, and if that was a tornado -- i mean a hurricane, and if the storm affected the
british fleet out in the chesapeake bay? >> okay. the british arrived on wednesday night. they left on thursday night. around about 2:00 p.m. on thursday, a storm of unprecedented velocity and ferocity struck the city. it lifted cannons like featherweights. horses were flattened. old homes were lifted up and dumped at random. it was so terrifying, that people, veterans who lived through this had never seen anything like it. a brutal force, the sky darkening. bolts of lightning illuminating scenes of chaos. the rivers were rising and ships were not latched, were broken loose from their moorings. it didn't douse the flames. that's another myth. the flames were recorded four or five days after the british set fire to the public buildings.
the capitol, the white house and public buildings. people recorded seeing flames as long after the invasion as four or five days. so the british, like everybody else, just a sanctuary we caught, and it doused not only the flames but it didn't extinguish them completely. >> we're saying great live video from our cameras at ft. mchenry today. how did the battle of washington, burning of washington, set up the battle of ft. mchenry? >> the british originally didn't want to go to ft. mchenry to capture baltimore and then they changed their minds. it took almost a week for them to change their minds. had they gone immediately, many baltimoreans forecast that the city, or spoke afterwards even in correspondence before the battle of northpoint, that baltimore would have fallen. they were unprepared. they were demoralized.
what happened after washington, it galvanized americans. everybody wanted to pay back. especially those who had been in the area. so when the british descended on baltimore, three weeks later, after having burned washington, there were 15,000 defenders who had swarmed in from surrounding counties and even from pennsylvania and virginia. old men, young men. it was raining hard. the eastern hills, which were heavily fortified, were slashed with soggy trenches, and even though the men were wet and damp, tired and hungry, they were itching for payback. that's what it did. it fired them up. >> we talk about the burning of washington and the the wonderful images we've seen from the national portrait gallery, but in reality, the building survived, the capitol survived, the white house survived. how badly were those buildings damaged? >> the capitol, a lot of it
survived, because benjamin harry latrobe, commissioner of public buildings in connection with the architecture of the capitol, he had pioneered the technique of vaulted ceilings, and they acted as firebreaks. and that's why -- and then when the british burned some of the rooms the unremitting flames came towards them, pushed them back. so they were not able to advance and a lot of the capitol survived. the saddest thing of all that didn't survive was the library of congress. that was on the western front, facing the modern mall, and it had no vaulted ceilings. there were timber ceilings, in a very, very large room on the western edge of the capitol and it went up like a tinderbox and and all 3,000 books were destroyed. ironically, most printed in britain and many of them about british parliamentary procedure. what happened next was amazing. thomas jefferson offered three
weeks later his private library as the nucleus of a replacement for a new library of congress and said most of my books 6,487 had been hand-picked by him in europe when he was minister to france, equivalent to an ambassador, and he said there's no renaissance man and you could see many of those books still in the library of congress, history, architecture, science, agriculture. he was into everything, and in many languages. and so congress liked the idea. they paid him just under $24,000. he said i have so many books. it will take two weeks to fill 20 wagons and come from my home in monticello to this washington. >> how long did it take to rebuild the white house and the capitol? >> the white house was rebuilt within three years, and the capitol took five years, because they kept altering the plans,
and they ran out of the original freestone which the capitol had been built with from a creek in virginia. that was no longer there. and so latrobe paced the countryside on the banks of the potomac from maryland to virginia and found a fusion of speckled rocks which he wrote to jefferson as magnificence. these would replace the marble columns that were destroyed in the house of representatives hall and in the senate chamber. if you go to the capitol today, you will see those long columns with overturns of gray and they call it the putting stone marble. so it was actually in many respects improved upon, the brilliance of the capitol. the capitol was always a beacon. it was always a symbol. when they built it at the beginning, it was a symbol of
pride and the aspirations of the young republic. after it was destroyed and rebuilt, it became a symbol of unity and resilience and today it's a beacon on the hill there, which, of democracy. >> let's get one more call for anthony pitch. this is brenda in newark, new jersey. go ahead. >> caller: yes. i just saw a very interesting documentary on the war of 1812 here in the metropolitan new york area on one of the tbs stations, and one of the things i learned amongst more balanced view of the war of 1812, and one of the things i learned along time ago and unfortunately not in school, was that if you dissect the word history, it comes out to his story. and my understanding from the documentary i saw was one of the
reasons that the british wanted to burn washington was because of the plundering and the burning that the american militia had done in canada. >> i'll let anthony pitch reply. thank you, brenda. >> yes, i already referred to that at the opening of this interview. it was part payback for american excesses in canada, where you're quite rightly so, they burned, plundered, pillaged some of the private buildings in canada, that is correct. >> our guest, historian anthony pitch. thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you. >> you've been watching american history tv on c-span3. a look at the war of 1812, and if you've missed any of our programming and our conversation on the war of 1812, you'll find it in our video library at c-span.org and and cspan.org/history for our
american tv site there. and today's programming on american history tv continues. we are going to take a look at the shipwreck believed to be from the war of 1812. the "uss scorpion." each week america's tv's american artifacts visits historic places to learn the story of the united states through objects. in 1812, joshua barney, a retired naval hero of the revolutionary war, proposed creating a flotilla of american barges to defend the chesapeake bay area against british ships. in august, 1814, commodore barney was forced to destroy and sink his fleet of about 15 vessels in maryland's patuxent river to prevent their capture. a single vessel the suspected flagship "scorpion" was discovered in 1979 under the river mud and partially excavated. now robert neiland of the navy
history and heritage command is leading the study of the wreck. learning about the project, visiting the navy's underwater archeology lab in the washington navy yard where artifacts from the ship are studied. >> this is the pawtuxet river. it flows into the chesapeake bay. we're going just up river at the highway 4 bridge. highway 4 is actually the very end of pennsylvania avenue. the same pennsylvania avenue that runs from d.c. and ends right at the pawtuxet river. the "scorpion" about one mile, two miles up river from that bridge. so we are about 30 minutes from washington, d.c. about 20, 25 minutes from annapolis, maryland, and about 45 minutes from baltimore. in 1814, the river was deeper. perhaps wider as well, too. there's been a lot of sedimentation from agricultural runoff since 1814. at this time during the early
19th century and the 18th century, sea-going vessels were able to go very far upriver. sedimentation stopped, prevented that river by the 18th and 19th century and early 20th century mechanicized agriculture there was a great influx of sediment into the river. during the war of 1812, the chesapeake was pretty much undefended. the british had free reign to come into the bay and come ashore, loot plantations, villages, take what they wanted as well, to you know, also punish the american citizens. joshua barney was a revolutionary war, naval war hero. he proposed to build a flying flotilla of barges that would be able to defend the coast during the day, and intercept the british landing parties and then